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Robin Nicholson last night likened the education of architects, so sacredly single-minded, to training for the priesthood. This was at AND NOW WHAT, one of a series of edifying round-table discussions organised by the Architecture Foundation. Dickon Robinson expressed misgivings that so few people trained in architecture end up distributed evenly through the system in non-architectural jobs. Robert Mull painted the dismal prospects for this generation of architectural graduates in unequivocal terms. I tried to weave these three threads into a silver lining: if all these graduates come out of school and there are no jobs in architecture, they're going to have to do something else, aren't they? This would fulfil both Dickon Robinson's vision of greater distribution of architecturally minded generalists, and address the worser characteristics of the priestly vocation. The transferability of skills is well rehearsed in design, because our universities have for years produced more design graduates than the design industry can possibly support as designers, but in architecture it's had much less of an airing. Maybe this recession is an opportunity to find out what, apart from architecture, architects are good for.

Robin Nicholson last night likened the education of architects, so sacredly single-minded, to training for the priesthood. This was at AND NOW WHAT, one of a series of edifying round-table discussions organised by the Architecture Foundation. Dickon Robinson expressed misgivings that so few people trained in architecture end up distributed evenly through the system in non-architectural jobs. Robert Mull painted the dismal prospects for this generation of architectural graduates in unequivocal terms. I tried to weave these three threads into a silver lining: if all these graduates come out of school and there are no jobs in architecture, they're going to have to do something else, aren't they? This would fulfil both Dickon Robinson's vision of greater distribution of architecturally minded generalists, and address the worser characteristics of the priestly vocation. The transferability of skills is well rehearsed in design, because our universities have for years produced more design graduates than the design industry can possibly support as designers, but in architecture it's had much less of an airing. Maybe this recession is an opportunity to find out what, apart from architecture, architects are good for.

Gerrard O'Carroll pointed out that all exciting progressive intellectual movements in architecture - from modernism to superstudio to NATO, MUF and FAT - start in hard times and Irena Bauman, having decisively renounced architecture's glittering prizes in favour of sustainable community enterprise, is upbeat.

The contest between the formal and the social came under scrutiny, but Nabeel Hamdi's sleight of hand resolved it, for me at least. "What", he asked "would a housing project look like that was rights- or gender- driven?". He later bristled at the claim that social conscience and committment cannot not express itself in buildings. I'm with Nabeel. "What would a housing project look like...?" is more than a figure of speech. Seeing is believing, in participation and inclusiveness.

Greg Penoyre said he wanted to "shorten the distance between me and those who might want what I can do; for example by getting rid of the PFI system once and for all". I also want to contract the distance between the professional and those who want and need design., but I wouldn't put it so technically. Somehow we need to persuade people they know more than they think they know - as Benjamin Spock said of new mothers - about style and structure.

Dickon Robinson talked of a new role for architects, helping communities and groups to get the built environment that they need; neither in the public nor the private sector but in the local and distributed zone between the two. Sarah Ichioka raised the risk of parochialism which, she reported, had been the previous day's round table's anxiety about the "local". But I don't think anyone's proposing the banishment of all architectural grandeur and virtuosity, or recommending the wholesale pursuit of new vernaculars. More that the in absence of market forces, other impulses might take root.

I retold my story of design as resourcefulness, and asked how the idea that the professional might find a new role guiding non-professionals into a condition of self reliance could obtain in the priesthood of architecture. Fred Manson had already cautioned us with the harsh economic truth that "nobody earns money by giving other people advice". Not so fast. Even if the economic situation doesn't force us to a new orthodoxy on this, the traction gained by "service design" - usually a question of designers helping others to help themselves, and making business out of it - suggests that that we should keep an open mind.

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